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June/July 2006
The Most Beautiful Place
Film Review by Sangamithra Iyer


God Sleeps in Rwanda
Directed by Kimberlee Acquaro and Stacy Sherman (2005)
Narrated by Rosario Dawson
28 minutes

There is an old Rwandan saying that at the end of the day, God comes to Rwanda to sleep because it is the most beautiful place in the world. This land of a thousand hills was once home to tranquility, but surely God must have been sleeping during the 1994 genocide, when nearly a million people were slaughtered in a mere hundred days. Furthermore, mass rape accompanied the atrocities. Perhaps what is most shocking is that a key player in orchestrating the rapes was a woman, Pauline Nyiramusuhuko, Rwanda’s then-Minister for Family and Women’s Affairs. She is the first woman ever to be charged with genocide and using rape as a crime against humanity.

While some women did participate in the atrocities, the majority were victims of repeated brutal sexual assault, witnesses to horrific violence, and bearers of tremendous loss. What they gained, however, is the majority of their country. Today women comprise nearly 70 percent of Rwanda’s population. God Sleeps in Rwanda, a 2005 Academy Award nominee for best documentary short, peeks into the lives of six women, shedding light on their considerable burdens in a post-genocide nation and revealing their unique strengths in rebuilding their lives.

The film introduces you to courageous women dealing with the consequences of mass rape—pregnancy and HIV. You first meet Severa Mukakinani, who after witnessing the slaughter of her seven children, was gang-raped and tossed in the river to die, but miraculously survived. Realizing she was pregnant, she made the difficult decision to keep the child, the only family she had left. Fifi Nuyangoga and Chantal Kantarama are best friends who were also victims of gang rape. Fifi contracted AIDS, while Chantal did not. They survived the genocide taking care of each other and years later, Chantal stayed by her dear friend so she would not die alone.

God Sleeps in Rwanda also presents women doing unprecedented things and in unprecedented numbers. Delphine Umutesi, the eldest of five children, found herself head of household at the age of ten when her parents were killed. Delphine was able to inherit her family’s land and create a home for her siblings, a right previously denied to women. Odette Mukakabera is one of the few female police officers in Rwanda. Joseline Mujawamariya was 17 during the genocide and now head of development in her village. Prior to the genocide, only five percent of women served in political office. Today, Joseline and other women comprise 30 percent of local leadership. Rwanda’s lower house of parliament is 49 percent female—the largest percentage of any parliament in the world.

Out of respect for the women, filmmakers Kimberlee Acquaro and Stacy Sherman shot the film with only two cameras and no crew. They hired Norah Bagarinka, a genocide survivor, as their translator. For Acquaro and Sherman, God Sleeps in Rwanda was more than a film. It was an opportunity to share the stories of remarkable women overcoming extraordinary circumstances. After Fifi passed away of AIDS without access to anti-retroviral drugs, the filmmakers decided to use the documentary to raise funds for assisting the remaining survivors struggling with AIDS.

This short film portrays strength, resilience and hope that women are restoring peace and tranquility in themselves and their country. While tragic things can happen in beautiful places, God Sleeps in Rwanda shows that beautiful things can also happen in tragic places.

For more about the film visit www.godsleepsinrwanda.com. The film is distributed by Women Make Movies. To buy or screen a copy contact www.wmm.com. To find out more on how to help widows and orphans affected by the genocide see www.avega.org.rw.

 


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